Presented by The Apollinaire Theatre Company
by Ethan Lipton
directed by Danielle Fauteux Jacques
Review by Craig Idlebrook
(Chelsea) Is it possible that we have slept through two of the longest wars in U.S. history? Not only that, but we slept through those wars because we stayed up too late watching the Jersey Shore. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were fought by professional soldiers far away, their impact reduced to a stream of debate on the nightly news. Now, as the wars wind down, a generation of damaged soldiers walks among us, haunted by what they have experienced on the battlefield. We lionize these warriors, but many of us don’t know what to do with them. Many soldiers likewise are unable to reintegrate into society, and feel like aliens in their homeland.
This is the launching point of Luther, a devastating piece of satire playing at Chelsea Theatre Works. It follows an earnest family that has adopted a soldier suffering from PTSD, exactly as one might adopt a shelter dog. When Marjorie (Danielle Fauteux Jacques) and Walter (Ronald Lacey) decide to push their comfort level by taking their soldier, Luther (Matthew Milo Sergi), to an office party, trouble ensues and everyone’s good intentions quickly unravel.
It is impossible to sit through this taut play and not feel uncomfortable as Ethan Lipton’s script reveals every character’s complicity in a system that first asks young men and women to fight for their country and then abandons them to grapple with their hidden scars. This script can be as subtle as a sledgehammer and sometimes it tries too hard to be cute to keep the audience engaged, but this play also wisely avoids some of the worst pitfalls of soldier melodrama by keeping Luther in the background. For much of the play, Luther is reduced to little more than an object of confusion that you can spot out of the corner of your eye. Sergi masterly allows Luther to inhabit a space somewhere between a blank slate and caricature, holding him back until who truly is, for better or worse, is revealed in the end.
Instead, the script critiques the wars by focusing on the Seinfeld-like existence of the soldier’s caregivers, who bicker and pout and treat Luther like the proverbial white man’s burden. Sometimes, the production, also directed by Jacques, lags because she and Lacey can’t find the rhythm of their characters’ everyday give-and-take dialogue, and that allows the audience to escape from the script’s vice. But when the two actors catch up to the script, it allow the couple’s bickering to swallow up any consideration for Luther, that’s when we realize we have abandoned our responsibilities to serve and protect those who have served and protected us.